A growing ethical, eco-friendly farming revolution is quietly being cultivated in Sandies Glen, a community nestled amongst ancient poplar trees, spring-fed dams and fynbos-covered mountains, in a secluded valley between the villages of Stanford and Napier.
Organic vegetables, biodynamic wines, free-range eggs, goat’s milk cheeses and proteas – these are just some of the products that are being lovingly produced by both recently-arrived residents on smaller plots of land, as well as bigger, more established farms.
Sondagskloof is one such smallholding in Sandies Glen. Here, over the past two decades, owners Cathy Marriott and her life partner, Basil Stilwell have passionately crafted their vision of the kind of life that they want to live – close to nature, healthy and self-sufficient but, most of all, being able to provide beautiful food for their family.
Just like the vegetables they now grow for clients such as the new OK Foods at Gateway Lifestyle Centre in Hermanus, their growth has been organic.
“This is the culmination of a long-held dream,” says Cathy, recounting the history of Sondagskloof. “We bought the property nearly 20 years ago when I was pregnant with our twin daughters and moved here permanently eight years ago from Cape Town. The whole idea was that we would live off the land and be self-sufficient, but it took a while to accomplish that.
“All this was just wild bush with alien vegetation when we bought the land. So we slowly started clearing the area and establishing gardens, with the main aim of feeding ourselves. So basically, this is how the garden started, very small. We grew enough for ourselves and we decided right from the beginning that, of course, it needs to be grown in ethically without pesticides and chemicals.”
Five years ago, though, economic necessity compelled Cathy to take the next step with her gardens. “As soon as we were up and running, we realised that we were producing far more than we needed. Also, in order to pay our gardener’s salary, who was just so fabulous, we had to start selling our produce. So that is how we started supplying Graze,” recounts Cathy.
Sondagskloof now does veggie boxes for Graze Slow Food Cafe in Stanford, a well-known farm-to-fork restaurant that only uses locally-sourced produce for their seasonal menu.
A glut of tomatoes about three years ago provided Cathy with the perfect opportunity to approach Deon Swart, the former owner of Green Ways, a health and wellness shop in Hermanus.
“He came on board and has just been fantastic. He is such a networker. He really helps local producers. When he takes you on and is committed to you, he sticks with you and promotes and pushes your product. He really has been lovely,” says Cathy.
When OK Foods opened in the Gateway Lifestyle Centre a few months ago, Green Ways transferred their organic suppliers to OK Foods to provide a larger customer base for these local producers. Sondagskloof currently also supplies the Fisherman’s Cottage as well as The Eatery restaurants with salad bags.
Apart from the gardens, Cathy and Basil have also built two chalets on the property that they rent out to weekenders and holidaymakers.
“The whole idea of building the cabins was to bring people in who share our vision and enjoy this kind of life. So when we have people in the cabins, we let them come into the garden and pick vegetables with us. They are welcome to roam and to just get a feel for the kind of lifestyle one can have,” explains Cathy.
But with everything that she and Basil have been able to accomplish with Sondagskloof over the years, the vision is not yet complete.
“I just want to delete that part of my life,” explains Basil who currently still needs to work abroad for much of the year to help with the bills that need to be paid, including tuition and expenses for their daughters who are both studying at the University of Cape Town.
In the meantime, Cathy carries on with building Sondagskloof, knowing that Basil will, one day, be able to quit his job and join her full-time on the farm.
“In the end, we are just trying to live a more mindful life. We want to live a quiet life centred around the seasons. We are getting there, but we are not yet perfect,” smiles Cathy.